9 Investigates questions surrounding new homeless center

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Orlando and Orange County spent $7 million on a new men's service center at the Coalition for the Homeless, but some question whether the money is being spent in order for the homeless to get help there.

Under the new rules, the homeless patrons will have to stay clean of drugs and alcohol or they might be back on the streets, because the Parramore facility where they stay now is about to be torn down.

9 Investigates watched Denver Freeman and dozens of other men line up one recent afternoon to get into the Pavilion at the Coalition for the Homeless. They pay a dollar for a hot meal, a shower and place to sleep on the floor at night.

Those accommodations, however, are about to disappear. The Pavilion will be torn down when the new center opens next door.

Freeman said he would rather sleep on the street.

"I think it's going to make the situation worse for the homeless people because a lot of people come here to sleep at night,” Freeman said.

Bob Brown, who runs the United Way, agrees.

"You are going to see a far more visible homeless population," he said. "You are going to see (homeless) people at Lake Eola, people on Church Street, the Amway Center.”

To stay in the new building, men have to agree to random drug testing, a 10 p.m. curfew and addiction counseling. 

Those are rules Freeman is not willing to play by. He doesn’t understand why the Coalition doesn’t leave the old building open and let the people who want to be in a challenging program stay in the new center.

Another homeless man told 9 Investigates he is going to give the new center a try. He is excited about the job placement and counseling services that will be offered at the new center.

If it helps him get a job, he said he's willing to follow the rules but admits many of his friends aren’t interested because of the required drug testing. 

 “Right off the bat, it’s going to put more people on the streets,” he said.

Many of the homeless men using the existing services have been abusing drugs and alcohol for years.

Brown knows how hard it is to get the men into treatment programs. He worked with the homeless for six years as chief executive officer of the Coalition for the Homeless.  He said the new service center will help the men who want to be helped get off the streets, but he worries about the men who just want a place to sleep at night.

Current Coalition CEO Brent Trotter said he believes it’s time to provide the men with more than a place to sleep. He maintains that 80 percent of the homeless men he surveyed told him they want the extra help.  

“They told us they would love to be able to get a job,” Trotter explained. “They would love to be able to get an education.”

While Orlando and Orange County contributed $7 million to the new center, Brown argues that funding is needed for an emergency shelter.

 “I have seen no evidence based practice or model that suggests this is going to work,” Brown said.

Trotter, meanwhile, said the new model is worth the risk.

 “I would rather risk the possibility of not being right than wonder if we ever had an opportunity to change these lives,” Trotter said.

 He also said he knows the transition will be difficult for some.

That’s why 50 beds at the new center will be set aside for “limited case management.” That means those men will have the chance to try out the program for 90 days before being required to comply with the drug testing and the addiction program.

Private donors also have pitched in with funding for the new center, providing $1.2 million to operate the new facility.